Starglass by Phoebe North

Starglass by Phoebe North

Information

Goodreads: Starglass
Series: Starglass #1
Source: Library
Published: July 23, 2013

Official Summary

Terra has never known anything but life aboard the Asherah, a city-within-a-spaceship that left Earth five hundred years ago in search of refuge. At sixteen, working a boring job and living with a grieving father who only notices her enough to yell, Terra is sure that there has to be more to life than what she’s got.

But when she inadvertently witnesses the captain’s guard murdering an innocent man Terra is suddenly thrust into the dark world beneath the Asherah’s idyllic surface. As she’s drawn into a secret rebellion that aims to restore power to the people, Terra discovers that her choices may determine life or death for the people she cares about most. With mere months to go before landing on the long-promised planet, Terra has to make the choice of a lifetime—one that will shape the fate of her people.

Review

Liberty on Earth. Liberty on Zehava.

Starglass combines space adventure with a dystopian narrative to bring readers the story of a girl who discovers she is unsatisfied with the government and the only life she has ever known aboard the spaceship Asherah. Terra is a unique protagonist, a bit “every teen” as she questions what she wants out of life and whether she’s pretty enough, but also bold and smart enough to earn admiration from readers. It is immensely interesting to follow her on her journey to questioning what her future should look like.

Normally I find space novels a bit claustrophobic, particularly when they take place entirely within the confines of a spaceship, as Starglass does. However, the summary is correct in calling the ship essentially a city, and Terra has room to roam, explore, and grown. It always feels as if there’s something new to discover in the setting, even as the characters look wistfully forward to reaching their new planet and having new spaces to explore. North does a great job imagining what a spaceship would have to look like, and have to provide, in order to sustain a five hundred year journey.

The plot vacillates between originality and common YA novel trends. I though the opening of the novel more unique than the second half, partially because so many dystopian stories have the plot arc. Apparently there are only so many ways to discover your government is corrupt and then plan to overthrow them. However, the latter half does have enough small twists and unique touches that I remained engaged.

Finally, the Asherah was chartered by a group of secular Jews who wished to keep their culture alive in the wake of Earth’s destruction, bringing a diversity aspect of the novel. The Jewish religion is not much practiced or mentioned (they did specify secular Jews, after all), but there is Yiddish scattered throughout the novel, as well as an emphasis on mitzvot, and some traces of the religion remain—such as one character’s insistence on putting electric lights on the table once a week for dinner. Terra herself, however, does not seem much interested in or attached to her own culture.

Starglass is a solid read for fans of science fiction and for those who are not yet tired of reading dystopian fare. I’m not sure I’m personally engaged enough to really care about reading the sequel, but I did enjoy this installment and think it’s worth recommending.

3 Stars Briana

Advertisements

The Beauty That Remains by Ashley Woodfolk

The Beauty that Remains

Information

Goodreads: The Beauty That Remains
Series: None
Source: City Book Review
Published: March 6, 2018

Summary

Sasha, Logan and Autumn used to be bound by their love of music and one special local band, Unraveling Lovely. Now UL is broken up, and all three teens are dealing with recent deaths and their separate griefs.  They soon find, however, that music can still move them and grief doesn’t need to be borne alone.

Review

I don’t read a lot of contemporary YA, so these books are often hit-or-miss for me.  I’m also not much of an “issues book” person, so reading a novel focused almost entirely on grief was a risk.  I was drawn in by the beautiful cover, however, and the promise that music would play a large role. (That sounds fun and uplifting, right?) My first impression upon finishing was “That wasn’t nearly as bad as I was expecting.” Further reflection, however, revealed that I actually liked many parts of the book, almost against my own self-destructive assumption that I probably wouldn’t.

There are a few nit-picky things about the book that bothered me:

  • None of the band names seemed that great to me, including the focus of the book, “Unraveling Lovely.”
  • The music featured/referenced was basically all made-up local bands and their songs, which made it harder to relate to or get invested in.
  • For some reason people at this high school didn’t know someone at their school had died in a car crash. Those things are BIG NEWS at most schools, with assemblies, memorials, offered counseling, etc.
  • The author was probably actually sincere, but sometimes the book just seemed trying a little too hard with the “therapy is good” and “we all deal with grief in different ways” messages. I like the message, but it could have been more subtle and less like a public service announcement.

However, none of these things are big enough to say that the book as a whole isn’t good.  In fact, I think the book is rather good. There are other places where I could almost see the seams of the book, the places where I imagine Woodfolk sitting down and thinking “I will now make this character have a character arc by doing x and y.”  However, that’s a sign of thoughtful writing, if not flawless writing, and it’s something most authors tend to iron out as they continue writing, so I think Woodfolk’s future looks very bright.

And, on the whole, I did think the book had great, complex characterization. This is a book where I realize I don’t need to “relate to” or “approve of” or always even “like” the characters to appreciate them as characters. I mean, a good third of the book is premised on people being cut to the core by the death of a guy who cheated on them (yes, cheated on multiple people, who are ALL sad about losing his love). I don’t get it, but I’m sure it happens.

Ultimately, whatever failings the characters in the book may have, part of the point is that these things do not define them.  People are complicated, multi-faceted.  We all have flaws, but we also have good parts—and it’s possible for us to pick ourselves up and move on after both our own failings and after external tragedies.  I kind of wanted the book to work in the title “The Beauty That Remains” into some profound statement about all of this because I think it would have been perfect and not actually heavy-handed, but it never did. The point was made a bit more subtly.

Overall, I enjoyed the book.  I admit I don’t think it’s going to be one of my favorites of the year, but it was different and thoughtful, and I had a good time going on different journeys with the large cast of characters.

Content Note: We’ve been talking on the blog recently about whether YA is maturing, so for people looking for recs for teens, I would say this book is probably for older teens. It features sex, drugs, alcohol abuse, suicide, and a leaked sex tape—which people in the high school seem to think is kind of no big deal.

4 stars Briana

Zenith by Sasha Alsberg and Lindsay Cummings

Zenith

Information

Goodreads: Zenith
Series: The Androma Saga #1
Source: City Book Review
Published: January 16, 2018

Official Summary

Most know Androma Racella as the Bloody Baroness, a powerful mercenary whose reign of terror stretches across the Mirabel Galaxy. To those aboard her glass starship, Marauder, however, she’s just Andi, their friend and fearless leader.

But when a routine mission goes awry, the Marauder‘s all-girl crew is tested as they find themselves in a treacherous situation and at the mercy of a sadistic bounty hunter from Andi’s past.

Meanwhile, across the galaxy, a ruthless ruler waits in the shadows of the planet Xen Ptera, biding her time to exact revenge for the destruction of her people. The pieces of her deadly plan are about to fall into place, unleashing a plot that will tear Mirabel in two.

Andi and her crew embark on a dangerous, soul-testing journey that could restore order to their shipor just as easily start a war that will devour worlds. As the Marauder hurtles toward the unknown, and Mirabel hangs in the balance, the only certainty is that in a galaxy run on lies and illusion, no one can be trusted.

Disclaimer

I had no idea there was some controversy surrounding this book until after I had read it.  I had no idea who either of the authors were; I don’t watch Booktube and didn’t even know Sasha Alsberg has a large following there. I have no opinion on whether she “deserves” her book deal or the positive reviews from other Booktubers who “probably know her.” My review is my own impression of the book.

Review

This is one of those reviews where I start out by saying “the premise is great, but the execution just wasn’t there.” It’s a book about a protagonist called “The Bloody Baroness” and her band of all-female space pirates. This should have been action-packed, badass, overall fabulous. However, uneven pacing and unconvincing characterization left me thinking the best word to describe the book is simply “meh.”

The book opens with a prison break of an impossible-to-escape prison as a key plot point. I believed this was going to be awesome, something in the vein of Six of Crows. However, the characters succeed so easily and move on with the plot so quickly that I just wasn’t convinced the feat was particularly impressive.  In my opinion, this prison should have been THE point of the book, and it should have been hard to get in, hard to get out.  As it stands, it’s almost an ancillary plot point, and that makes it boring.  In fact, all of what Androma accomplishes seems to come to her so easily that I never could buy into her persona as the Bloody Baroness.  People kept telling me she’s badass and dangerous, but I never really saw it.

The characterization went that way for most of the book.  The narrative voice kept telling me things—that people were great friends, that the crew was really loyal, that the love interest was in love, whatever.  But I was never convinced or invested. It’s often hard for me to explain why I’m not invested in a character (beyond the lack of showing, I guess), but despite all the work I could clearly see the authors putting in, despite the fact that I know exactly what they wanted me to think of each character, it just didn’t work for me.  (And that’s ignoring the fact that the romantic relationship is just generally bizarre—but I’ll pass on details to avoid spoilers).

Finally, this book has the same problem of “politics that don’t really make sense” that Krysta and I have been picking at on the blog recently. The great initial crime that got Androma banished from her home planet in the first place seems like an accident that could have occurred to anyone, plus she was a minor. The line of succession on these planets also seems strange and inconvenient (but, again, I want to avoid spoilers so won’t be too specific).

So why am I giving this three stars? I focused on the negatives of the book, but the fact is that I don’t think it’s “actively bad,” so to speak. Mostly I felt neutral about the whole thing while reading it. I wouldn’t bother recommending it to someone, but I could see some people enjoying it, and it’s certainly not the worst thing I’ve read.

3 Stars Briana

Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Obsidio

Information

Goodreads: Obsidio
Series: Illuminae Files #3
Source: City Book Review
Published: March 13, 2018

Summary

In this final installment in the Illuminae Files, fan favorite characters Nik, Ella, Hannah, Ezra, Kady, and AIDAN are back, along with two new protagonists, Asha and Rhys, who are stationed on warn-worn Kerenza IV itself. With the liquidation of all remaining Kerenza inhabitants imminent, the group must take final, desperate measures to save themselves and their loved ones and expose the atrocities that were committed on Kerenza by the BeiTech corporation.

Review

I have been a fan of the Illuminae Files since book one, pulled in by the unique decision to tell the story through chat logs, diagrams, video surveillance transcripts, etc. rather than through straight prose, but also captivated by the story itself. Science fiction at its finest asks questions about what it really means to be human, especially in a world where characters encounter things that seem distinctly not-human, and the Iluminae Files are wonderful at showing humanity at both its best and its worst.  Obsidio brings the series to a breathtaking conclusion that other fans certainly will not want to miss.

In some ways, Obsidio doesn’t seem as strong as the first two books. For instance, I enjoyed AIDAN but thought him/it a bit underdeveloped compared to the other novels, even though he/it does make some interesting contributions to the plot. I also thought the deaths of thousands of people were not quite as hard-hitting in this book as they had been in previous books, but that may be a result of fast pacing trying to get readers to the end of the series or of a decision to focus on the protagonists.

And at this point, there are a lot of protagonists, especially since readers are introduced to two new ones, Asha and Rhys, who are stationed on Kerenza IV itself and living in the wake of the attack (months in the past, at this point in the series). The authors actually do a good job of helping readers to care about this many characters, AND several secondary characters, but I can see how the deaths of some random characters were not as moving as they might have been.

The representation of Kerenza is also well-done, and I think the authors did a great job in portraying the military culture of the Bei-Tech soldiers stationed there—though I say this as someone without any personal experience of the military.  My one issue with space books is that they often sound the same, and being stuck on a spaceship for most of a book can feel claustrophobic to me, so I like the break here of getting some quality time planetside.

Otherwise, I’m not really sure what else to say about this book that readers don’t already know (especially since I think anyone reading this review is someone who also likes the Illuminae Files, has already read the first two books, and is probably planning to read Obsidio no matter what I say about it here).  Basically, this is a strong book, a strong ending.

5 stars Briana

The Mirror King by Jodi Meadows

Information

Goodreads: The Mirror King
Series: The Orphan Queen #2
Source: Library
Published: 2016

Summary

Wilhelmina has revealed her identity to the Indigo Kingdom.  They know now that she was both a criminal and a false duchess.  But now she lives as an honored guest of the kingdom, waiting for the day she will peacefully retake Aecor from its current foreign overlord.  If only Patrick Lien would stop killing people in her name!

Review

Spoilers for both books ahead!

Sometimes a book is so bad, it’s good.  This one starts with Wilhelmina living as an honored guest of the Indigo Kingdom, now that she has revealed herself as the cause of the Inundation and the leader of the group who has killed the king.  Her actions have resulted in a great many deaths as well as the destabilization of a nation and the possibility that the wraith, thought to be years away, will devour the Indigo Kingdom far more quickly.  Fortunately, the engaged prince is in love with her, so everyone is willing to overlook how terrible Wil is at doing anything right, and even willing to pretend that one day they might politely hand back to her the kingdom they conquered.  With a premise this ridiculous, how could the book be anything but great fun?

I had thought that The Orphan Queen had a nonsensical plot driven by characters who make only nonsensical decisions.  The Mirror King makes the first book look like a serious and well-researched depiction of political intrigue.  Because now that Tobiah’s father is dead, the Indigo Kingdom can be run entirely based on Tobiah’s personal feelings instead of any logic or regard for laws or citizens.  But just in case the drama still is not great enough, the book introduces an increasingly random series of situations and characters who are there solely to make plot twists happen.  They might flatly contradict everything we know about the laws of magic, but that is okay.  This book never pretended to care about logic. It’s all about the action and the romance.

Part of the charm of this book is how much I get to laugh over everything that happens.  However, I have to admit that I still enjoyed every ridiculous moment.  I recognize that the premise is inherently flawed, that the characters do not do anything that makes sense, and that the story contradicts itself.  And I don’t care.  I still read it, wanting eagerly to know what bizarre plot twist would happen next.

4 stars

Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce

Tempests and Slaughter

Information

Goodreads: Tempests and Slaughter
Series: The Numair Chronicles #1
Source: Library
Published: February 6, 2018

Official Summary

Arram. Varice. Ozorne. In the first book in the Numair Chronicles, three student mages are bound by fate . . . fated for trouble.

Arram Draper is a boy on the path to becoming one of the realm’s most powerful mages. The youngest student in his class at the Imperial University of Carthak, he has a Gift with unlimited potential for greatness–and for attracting danger. At his side are his two best friends: Varice, a clever girl with an often-overlooked talent, and Ozorne, the “leftover prince” with secret ambitions. Together, these three friends forge a bond that will one day shape kingdoms. And as Ozorne gets closer to the throne and Varice gets closer to Arram’s heart, Arram begins to realize that one day soon he will have to decide where his loyalties truly lie.

In the Numair Chronicles, readers will be rewarded with the never-before-told story of how Numair Salmalín came to Tortall. Newcomers will discover an unforgettable fantasy adventure where a kingdom’s future rests on the shoulders of a talented young man with a knack for making vicious enemies.

Review

I’m going to start out by saying that I have never particularly cared about Numair as a character from Pierce’s other Tortall books. That is, I have nothing against him, but he’s never been up there in my unofficial list of favorite characters or anything, so I’m not a fan who was interested in this book specifically because it’s a Numair origin story. I’m interested in the book because I’ve been a Tamora Pierce fan since I first discovered her Protector of the Small series in middle school and I wanted to see what new fantasy adventures Pierce would serve up. I was not disappointed. Tempests and Slaughter is an engrossing, richly imaginative story that reminded of why Pierce is such a pillar of the young adult genre.

Tempests and Slaughter really has everything Pierce fans have come to expect of her work: complex characters, rich world building, dazzling magic, and a cute animal sidekick. The only real difference may be that the protagonist is a man, which stands out only because Pierce is also known for her badass female characters. However, there are still badass female characters here as side characters, and I was kind of intrigued to see that Pierce put the same thought into representing the male experience of puberty that she puts into the female experience of puberty in her other series. I can’t say I’ve really read a book where a boy wonders about waking up with an unprompted erection before.

I think I may have been most captivated by the world building in the novel, however. Obviously Pierce has several stories set in this universe, primarily in Tortall, so the in-depth exploration of Carthak is fascinating. I also enjoyed the look inside a mage university, a change from the knight training in the Alanna and Keladry books, and the look at subtle politics that are probably applicable to any type of academia (for instance, the general academic dismissal of traditional tribal magics and gods).

The plot is admittedly a bit meandering, but on further reflection I decided that many of Pierce’s books have a tendency to just sort of portray the day-to-day lives of the characters, and I like it because it’s interesting. Numair’s “thing” at school is that he’s the youngest mage at the university and has to deal with feeling out of place and facing jealousy from other students. There is sort of an overarching plot tied to the Carthaki political situation (readers learn more about Ozorne in this book!), but I think it’s really going to play out more later in the series.

Bottom line: I loved this book. It reminded me why I love Pierce and why I love YA fantasy. Sometimes my YA reading choices disappoint me, even though I am very fond of YA, but novels like this show just how good YA can be. Tempests and Slaughter is definitely going to be a contender for my favorite books of 2018 list at the end of the year. Also, if you’re not a Tamora Pierce fan yet and wondering if you need to have read her other books to understand this one, the answer is no; you can start right here.

5 stars Briana

Alexander Hamilton: Revolutionary by Martha Brockenbrough

 

Alexander Hamilton Revolutionary

Information

Goodreads: Alexander Hamilton, Revolutionary
Series: None
Source: City Book Review
Published: September 5, 2017

Official Summary

“Complex, passionate, brilliant, flawed? Alexander Hamilton comes alive in Martha Brockenbrough’s exciting biography Alexander Hamilton: Revolutionary, which is an essential read for teen fans of Hamilton the musical.

Discover the incredible true story behind the Tony Award-winning musical – Hamilton’s early years in the Caribbean; his involvement in the Revolutionary War; and his groundbreaking role in government, which still shapes American government today. Easy to follow, this gripping account of a founding father and American icon features illustrations, maps, timelines, infographics, and additional information ranging from Hamilton’s own writings to facts about fashion, music, etiquette and custom of the times, including best historical insults and the etiquette of duels.”

Review

I enjoy nonfiction, but when I picked up Alexander Hamilton: Revolutionary by Martha Brockenbrough, I wasn’t expecting it to be quite as engaging as it is.  With a lively narrative voice and a text design seemingly geared to keep people even with short attention spans reading, the book offers a quick but fun and informative look into one of America’s Founding Father’s.

Brokcenbrough begins with Hamilton’s early life in the Caribbean and follows him to his death, exploring especially his actions during the Revolutionary War and his role in founding the country after the war was over.  She also offers glimpses into his private life, looking at his friendships, his relationship with his wife, and his affairs. The pacing of the book sometimes seems a little fast, but I think it works for readers who just want to learn about Hamilton and his life; I wasn’t expecting an in-depth tome geared towards stolid history buffs who want every little detail.

And though the book focuses on Hamilton’s accomplishments and his merits—his integrity, drive, and intelligence—it does not shy away from pointing out his faults.  The book is a celebration of Hamilton in many ways, but it also strives to be balanced.

Most surprising, however, may be how beautifully designed the book is. The cover under the jacket has an intricate design embossed in gold foil. The interior has illustrations of key players in the novel and sketches of key places.  Quotes are featured in the middle of the page, breaking up the text so it doesn’t look like an imposing block of words.  This is a great book to buy if you like owning beautiful books.  It’s not just pretty, though, because it’s also a fascinating read.

4 stars Briana